The Election of Pius VII

[another from the ‘God always has a plan’ file…] [also from the diocesan bicentennial file]

Claude Monet San Giorgio Maggiore
San Giorgio Maggiore, by Claude Monet

In Venice, Italy, across the water from the Doge’s Palace and the campanile of San Marco, the little island of San Giorgio Maggiore broods quietly.

Benedictine monks retired from the world to this island, for centuries. The famous Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio built the great church. Nowadays, you can ride a water taxi there, buy one of Venice’s more-expensive sandwiches in the café, and look out across the water at the entrance to the ancient naval arsenale.

But something quite unusual happened on the Venetian isle of San Giorgio Maggiore in late 1799 and early 1800.

San Giorgio Maggiore from Piazzetta San Marco John Henderson
Looking out from St. Mark’s square across the water to San Giorgio Maggiore (Photo by John Henderson)

Napoleon had conquered the city of Rome and expelled all the Cardinals. He took Pope Pius VI into exile in France, where the old pope died.

Now, Pius had foresight. The year before, he laid down a rule about what should happen, if a conclave could not occur in the Sistine Chapel. The Cardinals were to gather in the city which had produced the largest number of them.


Thirty-five Cardinals gathered at the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio. They took their votes in the monks’ night chapel.

It took three and a half months, with multiple apparent deadlocks in the voting. (At that time, the 2/3-majority requirement stood as an absolute rule.) Then they finally elected Pope Pius VII.

The last pope elected outside the city of Rome.

Twenty years later, that very pope–the one they elected in Venice–erected our humble Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.

The Hogan Schism

Anniversaries today:

1. The Incarnation of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

2. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on the Gospel of Life.

William Hogan
3. The destruction of the Ring of Power in the fires of Mount Doom.

4. The first Holy Mass in the English-speaking colonies of the New World, said by Father White.

So let us take a few steps down the road of American Church history.

Since we have recently been discussing the punishment of ecclesiastical malefactors, let us recall to our minds the episode called the “Hogan Schism.”

When I visited the church of St. Joseph in Philadelphia years ago, someone there explained that the church’s unusual architecture—which serves to hide it from view—was the result of anti-Catholic riots in the 1800’s.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia endures some rough times as we speak. May justice be done, and may God comfort the innocent. But perhaps things are not as bad as they were back in the diocese’s nascent days…

Continue reading “The Hogan Schism”